There is so much I don’t understand about all this ghastly business. But one question torments me above all others: where has all the bloody yeast gone?
First, they came for the toilet roll. And then for the flour. The strong white bread flour was first to go, followed by the plain white, the wholemeal, the self-raising and then, in no particular order, the rye, the spelt, the khorasan and all the other mysterious varieties that no one normally buys. Soon there was none.
I was livid. I thought I was the only clever dick clever enough to bake his own bread. Who were these flour thieves? I know we are all in this together blah blah, but this was beyond the pale. I bet these arrivistes watched a couple of Bake Offs and bought Paul Hollywood’s book, which I dare say has remained unopened. Well, good luck to the lot of you.Advertisement
The first flour to make it back on to the shelves in my supermarket was strong white bread flour, in big 3kg bags. I had a glowering standoff with a bloke who had the last one clutched to his chest like a rugby player going into a maul. I would happily have fought him, as he was much smaller than me, but couldn’t have done so without breaching social distancing guidelines. We were nose-to-nose, resembling fighters at a weigh-in, except these floury fighters’ noses were 200cm apart. He flicked his eyes upwards to the top shelf. There were three more bags up there I hadn’t seen. So I forgave him and the matter was closed.
When this crisis first broke, I felt I knew for the first time what really mattered: the health of loved ones, and not much else. Big things I had previously worried about suddenly seemed so small. But then the small things, like bread flour, themselves became big things.
I have flour now but nowhere, anywhere, can I get yeast. Where has it all gone? There must be so much out there that if a biblical flood were added to our woes, all this unused yeast would dissolve in it and rise up, frothing, to bake us in a giant crusty loaf of calamity.
Luckily, I don’t need yeast. Since I was a student, I have been fascinated by Irish soda bread. When I was revising for my finals in 1990, I tore a recipe out of a newspaper and, seeing a fine excuse not to read any more stupid Henry James, I got busy. I have been fiddling away trying to perfect this recipe for 30 years now, to the extent that it’s now no more authentically Irish than I am. But it is, if I may say so, perfect. This is my gift to the yeastless:
Combine 15g of bicarbonate of soda, 10g of salt, 5g of caraway seeds, a handful of porridge oats or any other random seeds you have. Then mix that with 400g of a combination of any flours you have. Stir in half a litre of any milk, soured with the juice of one lemon. Then melt together a generous tablespoon of black treacle and an equally generous teaspoon of Marmite in a small pan and stir that in, too. Lick the Marmitey/treacly pan clean; it’s a taste sensation. You should now have either a sloppy dough or stiff batter, depending on how you look at it. Bake at 190C (fan-assisted) for an hour in a one-litre loaf tin.
The yeast-rich can try it when they finally run out in five years or so.
• Adrian Chiles is a writer, broadcaster and Guardian columnist